Other than one big play by the Mountain Home Bombers, the Benton defense bent but did not break, and the offense, after to a hot start but fighting through a lull, woke up in the second half to claim a 35-7 victory on Homecoming at Everett Field in Benton. It was Benton’s fourth straight win of the season, 13th straight 6-A West Conference victory and it kept the Panthers a perfect 4-0 in league play.
The Panthers (5-2, 4-0) outgained the Bombers (3-4, 1-3) 561-294 in total yardage as Benton senior quarterback Garrett Brown threw for 410 yards in bombing a surging Mountain Home team which went winless the previous two seasons.
“I thought we played really solid again defensively,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said. “We had the one pass reception we gave up. We were in position to make the play and weren’t able to. We attacked the ball really well, held a team that had been putting up a lot of yards and a lot of points to seven points and less than 300 yards of total offense, so I’m pretty excited about that.”
Benton wasted little time in getting on the board in the Homecoming win. A Brown to junior Cameron Harris 40-yard pass on the first drive of the game put the Panthers in perfect position to score. Another 12-yard pass to Harris and a Brown to senior Trevor Standridge 23-yard pass to the Bomber 1-yard line set up Casey Johnson’s 1-yard plunge for an early 7-0 lead after Bryan Araujo’s point-after with 10:23 left in the first quarter.
A Mountain Home punt – the Panther D forced six on the night – ensued before Benton got back to business. Brown hit junior Andre Lane for a 7-yard gain and Johnson followed with an 11-yard run before it became the Brown and Harris show. Brown found Harris on three straight completions, including a 51-yarder and capped by a 2-yard Harris TD reception for a 14-0 lead with 7:57 to go in the first quarter.
Despite a 19-play drive by the Bombers on the ensuing drive, which included three Panther penalties (one pass interference and two roughing the passer) resulting in 45 Mountain Home yards, one which negated senior cornerback Chris Bronson’s interception, the Benton defense held tough and stuffed the Bombers at the Panther 9-yard line for a turnover on downs.
Regarding the penalties, Harris wasn’t too upset as long as they don’t become a trend.
“We’re going to make some mistakes and have some penalties at times defensively, but I want us to be really, really aggressive,” he said. “We’re going to get some late hits and, every now and then, we’ll get a pass interference because we’re trying to teach our guys to be really aggressive and physical. We’re playing really solid defense right now. We’re not wanting to take the edge off them at all.”
Benton would get a couple first downs on its next drive but was forced to punt. But, Brown’s punt was muffed by the Bombers’ returner Logen Walker and recovered by Lane at the Mountain Home 10-yard line. Two plays later Johnson scored on for a 1-yard TD run for a 21-0 Panther advantage with 10 seconds left in the first quarter.
It looked as if Benton was on its way to a blowout win on Homecoming, but the Bombers fought back. On Mountain Home’s fourth-and-3 play, the Panther defense was called offsides and the Bombers made them pay on the next play. Quarterback Bryce McKay found his favorite target, senior receiver Logen Walker, for a 50-yard TD to make it a 21-7 ballgame early in the second quarter.
The defenses would take over after that, though, as it would stay a 21-7 game at the half. In fact, from the 9:40 mark of the second quarter until about three and a half minutes left in the third, it stayed a 14-point game. But, at the 3:36 mark of the third quarter, Brown hit Standridge with a short pass and Standridge streaked through the Bomber defenders for a 52-yard TD and a 28-7 Benton lead.
The Bombers responded with a 16-play drive, but a big sack by defensive end Mason Simmons took Mountain Home back to the Panther 35. The Bombers reached the Benton 6-yard line, but Bronson would get his pick after all as he intercepted McKay in the end zone to stop the threat.
It took just one play for Benton to get back on the board. Sophomore Donovan Pearson went untouched up the gut for an 85-yard TD to put the Panthers up 35-7 with 11:16 left to play in the game, which held for the final score.
Brown completed 28 of 45 passes for 410 yards and two TDs without an interception.
“He (Garrett Brown) had a good night,” Harris said. “We thought he missed some at times and made a couple of situations difficult, but then you look at his stat line and he did a good job of getting us into plays, reading RPOs (run/pass option). Another solid night. We’re going to have to have that next week when we play at Greenwood.”
Harris had five catches for 122 yards and a TD. Standridge finished with six catches for 114 yards and a TD while Lane had eight receptions for 52 yards and senior Jordan Parham had three for 40.
Pearson finished with nine carries for 98 yards and a TD while catching three passes for 38. Johnson ran 13 times for 57 yards and two TDs.
Benton held McKay, who came into the game leading Mountain Home rushing with 887 yards, to just 36 yards on 23 carries. McKay also passed 12 of 28 for 137 yards with a TD and an interception.
“We were worried about (McKay) all week,” Harris said. “He did a really good job in all of their previous games and ran for over 200 yards (201 against Van Buren) last week.”
Senior running back Gage Hershberger had 31 carries for 121 yards, while Walker led the Bombers with five catches for 77 yards and a TD.
Benton will take the long trek to Greenwood to face the 6-A No. 1 Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0) next Friday. Greenwood downed Russellville 48-10 at home Friday. Mountain Home will take on Siloam Springs on the road next Friday.
“We haven’t watched them (Greenwood) just a whole lot. I try not to. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Harris said of the Bulldogs. “They look like a typical Greenwood team. They’re going to be really good, really sound in every phase of the game. They always find a way to get kids to play hard for them and they expect to win. You’re going to have to give them your best shot. They’re definitely going to have their sting ray out for us since we beat them in conference last year.”
(game story courtesy of Tony Lenahan, Sports Editor for The Saline Courier)